I remember sharing secrets with my inner circle of friends growing up. At that young age, telling one’s secrets was a nervous endeavor as we had sworn not to tell another soul. Cross my heart and hope to die and stick a needle in my eye was our oath of anonymity. But what if someone broke the oath and told another? The vulnerability was intense.
What I’ve found after decades in the church that for the most part, few of us tell our experiences of how God has touched our lives. It’s like we’re sworn to secrecy and that we might be laughed at or some other vulnerable way face rejection if we tell our story of how God has impacted our lives.
I never ask anyone to do what I won’t do myself. So I thought I’d ask the question to all of us: How do you recall your first meetings or experiences of Jesus? Since I don’t ask others to do something that I won’t do myself, I’ll offer two of mine.
The first experience is vivid in my memory while I am surprised that I remember back to the time when I was between two to three years old. My mother and father sat in church in the back row on the Epistle (right) side of the congregation (children were at the risk of making noise). At age two, the distance to the altar seemed to be endless, looking at two individuals at the altar dressed in black and white robes (surplice and cassock) moving objects while talking, having no idea of what they were saying. Everyone else was wrapped in silence. Something was happening up there but I couldn’t tell what it was. But I felt it—whatever it was. A mysterious presence was happening. I felt it Sunday after Sunday—and the feeling got bigger as the Sundays passed. The mystery held me in its grip with a sense of awe and wonder.
The mystery continued even when we moved across town to a 19th Century brick Church building when I was three. By late elementary school I would sit in the balcony—perhaps the old servants seating area and had the supreme picture of looking down at the altar with no obstructions being able to witness the whole event which I had learned was called “Holy Communion.” I communed when I wasn’t old enough to receive communion.
I was held by a presence I could not even describe much less name. The presence still remains today and as the bread is broken, it’s like all of heaven breaks loose around us. Still, there are no words to be found but a presence to be received and remembered.
A second experience of meeting Jesus was during a large children’s chapel in the gym on Palm Sunday when I was in the upper grades of elementary school. There must have been fifty or more of us crammed into the gym. I remember Lew Thomas, the children’s lay reader that everyone loved, had a whole cart of small potted plants. He was telling a story of Jesus at the time of Palm Sunday and he spoke of Good Friday when all of a sudden he took one of the plants and literally mashed it down flat with one of his hands when he said that Jesus was killed—crucified. I wasn’t expecting that at all. The room went “uhhh” and then fell silent. Then he gave the crushed plant to one of the children to bring back to life. The rest of us received our own potted plant. I didn’t have the heart to crush mine.
This was my first image of Christ’s suffering and death. We always talked about the resurrection but somehow the suffering and dying part we never got around to until then. The words of Gabriel to Mary later described what I was feeling at that moment in his words: A sword shall pierce your heart also (Luke 2). That’s what I felt and I’ve never forgotten it. Somehow, Jesus is present in the suffering. Even when I’d rather run away from the suffering, Jesus doesn’t. This has given me strength all the way up to today.
So I’ve told you two of my childhood stories of meeting Jesus. What’s yours?
Tell someone. You never know who Jesus will bless through your story.